The Orientation of the Priest

The switch between the priest facing east and now "facing the people" is a practice that is not mentioned at all in any of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

This change is very significant because it directly challenges the doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass. The first Christians to celebrate "versus populum" were the "reformers" of the 16th century, Luther, Cranmer and their followers. They switched the orientation of the priest to reflect their new theological opinion of what the Mass, or Communion Service, actually was. The only sacrifice in their worship they believed in was a sacrifice of praise and self-giving by the faithful present. The priest switched from offering a divine Victim to God the Father, to a presider representing the people.

However, the Catholic Church maintains the deposit of truth, which teaches that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass re-presents the cross of Calvary to each generation anew, perpetuating the incarnation of our Lord through the ages. To assist at Mass is to be present at Calvary. All of the sacraments of the Church are the "making present" of Christ's redemptive grace to us. Christ was born, lived and died once - for the people then, and since He is God, for us here today through the sacraments - being "channels of grace". Therefore, the priest offers up to God the Father, the very same sacrifice of Calvary to aid us all to salvation through the eating of his Body and Blood.

Moreover, tradition has always taught that a sacrifice must be presented before the altar, not behind it. With the priest now behind the altar, the offering of the sacrifice is being confused. Note, I say before and behind the altar, not as people seemingly say today, "with his back to the people" and "facing the people" - this is people oriented language, we must use God oriented language in order to emphasise what the Mass is all about, worshipping God, not having a community get-together. The introduction of this practice, in going against 2000 years of Catholic tradition, has turned the worshipping people in on themselves. We are meant to come together as a community of Christians, being led by the priest in the person of Christ, to worship and offer the sacrifice of Jesus to God the Father. With the priest standing behind the altar facing the people, the attention has switched to the people who are present, and away from God, supernaturally and substantially present. The priest being given a large chair in a prominent position, with the tabernacle usually pushed to one side, surely is not a mere coincidence.

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Last modified 6th March, 1997, by David Joyce.